North Florida

The thing about Florida is that I always want to call it a swamp, when it's not really. Up near my folks it's mostly pine trees over dry sand, the typical live-oaks draped in Spanish moss. Northern Florida which is where we always ran around is desolate yet lush, empty and lonely Southern. Busted-up road-side fruit-stands and abandoned trailers, good proper Gothic.

A couple years ago, my dad and me took the bikes across the state to the trailer park retirement community where my grandparents had lived outside Ocala. From there we rode south, covering every bit of six hundred miles in a day. We got headed out early, before my kids were up, and roared westward.

We were into it a couple of hours, moving fast on a large empty four-lane, when one of those ubiquitous shitty little gas station came up on the left. You know the kind I'm talking about, concrete block and Winston ads. Nowhere you'd want to be late at night. At the same time we reached the apex of the curve the structure was tucked into, a lone man strode out of the woods immediately to our right.

The man was tall and lanky and walked through the tall grass the way a tall thin man walks after he's been at it a while. It's the same way I walk when I am working. I don't remember having seen any structures other than the Quickie-Mart for miles and miles. It was August in Florida but he was wearing long pants, a flannel shirt and a battered gray jacket. There was a wool confederate infantry cap on his head and an axe-handle firmly in his right hand. We rode right past him but he never once looked at us, his crooked nose and salt and pepper beard pointed intently in the direction of the gas station. It was maybe ten in the morning on a Saturday. All of this occurred in seconds, and years ago, so I'm not sure how much is properly remembered and how much has been fabricated for your benefit.

Me and the old man got stopped an hour later in a town by a train crossing the main road. We thumbed the bikes off and leaned back in our seats, balancing the bikes under us. I turned to him and asked "Did you see that guy back there?" and he laughed and said Yeah. I said "What the fuck was that?" and he just shrugged and laughed even harder.